Caring for Aging Parents: Recognizing Caregiver Burnout

According to AARP’s 2020 report, “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020”, 1 out of 5 Americans (21.3%) are caregivers, having provided care to an adult or child with special needs in the last 12 months.  There are an estimated 53 million caregivers in the United States today.

Most caregivers of an adult care for a relative (89%), typically a parent or parent-in-law (50%), spouse or partner (12%), grandparent or grandparent-in-law (8%), or adult child (6 %), and 10% for a friend or neighbor.

Caregivers provide support and complex care to their loved ones in a variety of ways from transportation to doctor appointments, grocery shopping and meal preparation, to administering medications.  They provide hands-on personal care, such as, bathing and transferring, and provide nursing care such as, treating wounds and giving injections.

Many caregivers still work full-time or part-time jobs while also providing care to a loved one.  The AARP study reports that the older the caregiver, the more hours he/she spends providing care each week.  Those between 45-54 spend an average of 25.8 hours per week, those between 55 and 64 years old spend an average of 25.3 hours, those between 65 and 74 years old spend an average of 30.7 hours, and those who are 75 years and over spend an average of 34.5 hours per week on caregiving duties.

Caregivers become overwhelmed with the growing demands of caring for a loved one which leads to caregiver burnout.

Other Factors that Contribute to Caregiver Burnout:

  • Role Confusion – for example, when the caregiver feels that he/she is in the role of the parent as opposed to his/her true role which is the adult child
  • Unrealistic Expectations – for example, the caregiver expects that his/her loved one is going to get better and the chronic illness will stop
  • Lack of Control – for example, the caregiver tries to keep a routine schedule but his/her loved one’s chronic illness causes unpredictable medical emergencies, flare ups of medical symptoms, or sudden changes in behavior
  • Unreasonable Demands – for example, expecting that by being the caregiver, his/her parent is in better hands and no one else can take on the responsibilities

When caregivers experience these issues and the demands continue to grow, they can start to experience physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.

The Signs of Caregiver Burnout:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Low mood, feeling blue
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Changes in appetite resulting in weight gain or loss
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Getting sick often
  • Feelings of wanting to hurt oneself or the person for whom he or she is caring

The trajectory for caregiving time can range from a few months to several decades.  Caregivers spend an average of four years in their caregiving role.

Caregiving starts with the awareness that the care recipient needs help and requires sporadic care.  Later, a new level of responsibility develops as the care recipient starts to require help with getting to doctor appointments and managing his/her instrumental daily living activities (i.e. shopping, chores, laundry, appointments, meals, etc.).  As care needs grow and the care recipient’s health declines, the caregiving role becomes a daily routine of personal care, household tasks, coordinating in-home care providers, and installing medical equipment in the home to adapt to the changing functional abilities of the person.  Towards the later stages of caregiving, caregivers are setting up end of life care, placing loved one’s into skilled nursing facilities or hospice care, and overseeing the comfort and advanced directives of the care recipient.

November is National Family Caregiver Month and we at Family First honor those unsung heroes providing care and support each day to a loved one.   Family First is here and ready to help with respite care services and ongoing caregiver support.  Call us today to have a care consultation and learn how a professional senior companion can make a difference for you and your loved one.


Jennifer Benjamin
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